Let me paint a picture. You've been using HubSpot for a while now, maybe a year or more. You're coming up on renewal and the amount of contacts you've collected mean that you're looking at having to graduate to the next level of account type.
One of the most common questions that we have fielded from both clients and prospects is: "Can I just delete contacts for the renewal period and then add them back in later?"
The answer technically is yes but the ramifications are far from simple.
There is a time and place to delete contacts, but it should be well thought out and supportive of your strategy rather than a last ditch effort decision to save a few bucks. Let's dive into what happens when you do choose to delete contacts and some of the strategies for when and how you should do it.
What Exactly Happens When You Delete Contacts?
So, this is the tricky part. Most people don't even try to answer this question before making the decision to remove contacts. They just do it and worry about the rest later. Make sure you think about this in advance of making any decisions or pulling any triggers!
HubSpot lays it all out right here, but the basics are:
Visitor data will be maintained
Contact data will be removed
Essentially what you are doing is going back in time and transforming that contact back into an anonymous visitor. This means that none of their data surrounding conversions or information will be maintained.
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It's Not as Simple as Deleting and Re-Adding Contacts
"Well, can't I just export all their data in an excel sheet and then add them back in later?"
Again, the answer to that question is technically yes. And again, the ramifications are far from simple.
You can maintain their contact record in an excel sheet and put that data back in later, but what you can't do is recreate their conversion history. Once you delete a contact that information is gone and you cannot get it back.
What Does It All Mean?
Okay, so now you ask, "Fine, then what does this really mean for me?"
What it means is that your historical reporting will be irrevocably changed after removing contacts (even if you add them back in later). You can go back in time and look at all of your visitor data and it will be perfectly accurate as far back as you have history. The same will no longer be true for your contact data.
Let's use an example for illustration purposes:
"I'm Bob Smith, a contact in your database. I started visiting your website in October of 2016. Back in November of 2016, I converted on my first offer. You sent me regular email correspondence. Sometimes I opened. Sometimes I clicked. I visited your blog a time or two. In January of 2017, I converted on another offer that was part of a very specific campaign you tracked in HubSpot."
Now, let's say you've deleted Bob. You can still see my visit information from back in 2016 and my blog views, but you've lost all of the rest of my contact data. This means that your conversion rate data for the month of November 2016 (the ratio of contacts to visitors) is now wrong. Since you removed the fact that Bob converted on an offer, that means your sources report now has no idea that he ever converted.
So, now when you want to compare my conversion rate this month to your conversion rate in November of 2016, you're comparing it to the wrong number. This is far and away the biggest overlooked effect of contact removal. So be sure to consider it when deciding whether or not to delete contacts.
In addition to issues with conversion rates or comparing historical contact numbers, you will also lose the information on which emails Bob interacted with, your HubSpot campaign will lose any information it knows about him - and therefore it will effect all of the percentages and ratios calculated for that campaign to measure its success.
When Should I Delete Contacts?
Your next question is then, "So, are you advocating that I never delete contacts?"
Absolutely not. In fact, I'm a firm believer in deleting contacts that are mucking up your database. I'm just advocating that you do it the right way and think about your decision before diving in headfirst.
Any removal of contacts should be strategic and purposeful, with full knowledge and understanding of what far-reaching implications that removal will have on your database and your reporting.
Here's How to Do It
You should have automated processes in place (that run all the time) which identify potential contacts that should no longer live in your database, attempt to re-engage them and finally flag them for removal. There should always be a manual review of those contacts before deletion.
Contact removal is a lifestyle choice, not a passing fad. Don't wait to think about it at renewal time. Use the power of HubSpot's automation to do the majority of the work for you and keep your contact database clean year-round.